The Apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). In other words, love your fellow Christians so much that you choose to focus on Christ’s work in their life rather than their shortcomings. Love them enough to pray for them rather than criticize them.
Martin Luther said, “As God with his love covers my sins if I believe, so must I also cover the sins of my neighbor.”
Just as love covers a multitude of sins, so also works righteousness covers over a multitude of noble deeds. That is to say, a person could do 10,000 acts of charity and yet still be unsaved and miss out on Heaven. Works righteousness is man’s attempt to be righteous before God by his actions.
The Gospel, on the other hand, actually provides the righteousness that is necessary to be forgiven and granted the free gift of everlasting life in Heaven.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “A righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known … this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).
Some immediately object: “Wait a minute! What about those who say they believe but are doing x, y and z. Are you telling me they are saved?”
Good question, and it gets asked all the time. The answer? That all depends. Are you talking about people who are deliberately living for sin, or about genuine believers who are imperfect and who hate sin in their life?
Followers of Christ do not want to sin, while those content to sin are outside of God’s Kingdom.
Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Those who persistently and deliberately make sin the king of their soul are not saved. Meanwhile, Christians trust Jesus for salvation and seek to live for Christ. And so, if we are talking about someone “doing x, y and z,” it really boils down to what is in their heart.
Does Christ live within the person, even though he or she has said some things and done some things that are inconsistent with Christianity? Who hasn’t?
But if you are talking about someone who pursues sin the way Christians pursue Christ, then “No,” such a person is not saved and forgiven, even if they casually claim to “believe.”
Every human being is in one of two camps. Either their body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Cor. 6:19) or it isn’t.
Christians forfeit God’s peace in their heart when they sin, and especially when they are confronted with it. Many critics of Christianity do not realize this fact. You see, you can only experience this internal dynamic and spiritual conflict between the Spirit and the flesh after coming to know Christ as Savior (see Galatians 5:16-18).
Christians agree with the critics about those who live like Hell, while claiming they are on the road to Heaven. Christians and critics alike agree that hypocrites are not forgiven of their sins. Interestingly, the Bible never uses the word “hypocrite” for a believer in Jesus Christ, but only for those outside of Christ’s Kingdom.
Meanwhile, many people strive to produce their own righteousness in hopes of gaining God’s acceptance by their good behavior. The net result? They remain lost in their sin because of their works righteousness. It cancels out all their honorable efforts. No good work in their life even comes close to washing away a single sin.
“If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21). If works righteousness could save man’s soul, Christ died for nothing. If you could earn your way to Heaven by trying to obey the 10 Commandments, Christ died for nothing. And if you could make yourself righteous in God’s eyes by your noble deeds, Christ died for nothing.
Do you see why works righteousness is so dangerous and deadly to man’s soul? It provides a false sense of security.
Imagine having a life-threatening disease that could be healed by a particular medicine. What if you were accidentally given the wrong prescription? You would assume that you were going to get better, but you would be dead wrong. Something similar happens with works righteousness. Since it is the wrong prescription, it is unable to rescue a person from eternal punishment in Hell. Only the blood of Jesus has that kind of power.
As Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers” put it: “Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus to keep you out of Hell.”
Are you relying upon medicine for your soul that has no healing properties, or are you trusting in the fact that Jesus shed his blood for your sins on the cross to pay the penalty you deserve to pay? Which is it: Works-righteousness, or Christ-righteousness? The law, or the Gospel? Which one are you trusting in for salvation?
Pastor Tim Keller wrote, “If you were a hundred times worse than you are, your sins would be no match for God's mercy.”
Allow that profound statement to sink deep into your heart. And then rely upon God’s grace to forgive your sins and to “teach you to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:12).
Works righteousness covers over a multitude of noble deeds, whereas God’s love in Christ covers over a multitude of sins.
Salvation is freely given to those who trust in Christ alone, whereas damnation is given to those who attempt to earn their way into Heaven. Works righteousness is the devil’s most powerful weapon in his unholy zeal to prevent people from knowing and loving God.
Which of these two doctrines will you choose to embrace from this moment forward: The false doctrine of works righteousness, or the liberating message of the Gospel?
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.